Sense and Sensibility

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A novel by J. Austen, which grew from a sketch entitled ‘Elinor and Marianne’; revised 1797–8 and again 1809; published 1811.

Mrs Henry Dashwood and her daughters Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret are left in straitened circumstances, because her husband's estate has passed to her stepson John Dashwood. Henry Dashwood, before his death, had urgently recommended to John that he look after his stepmother and sisters, but John's selfishness defeats his father's wish. Mrs Dashwood and her daughters accordingly retire to a cottage in Devonshire, but not before Elinor and Edward Ferrers, brother of Mrs John Dashwood, have become mutually attracted. However, Edward shows a strange uneasiness in his relations with Elinor. In Devonshire Marianne is thrown into the company of John Willoughby, an attractive but impecunious and unprincipled young man, with whom she falls desperately in love. Willoughby likewise shows signs of a strong affection for her, but he suddenly departs for London, leaving Marianne in acute distress. Eventually Elinor and Marianne also go to London, on the invitation of their tactless and garrulous old friend Mrs Jennings. Here Willoughby shows complete indifference to Marianne, and finally, in a cruel and insolent letter, informs her of his approaching marriage to a rich heiress. Marianne makes no effect to hide her great grief. Meanwhile Elinor has learned, under pledge of secrecy, from Lucy Steele (a sly, self‐seeking young woman) that she and Edward Ferrers have been secretly engaged for four years. Elinor, whose self‐control is in strong contrast to Marianne's demonstrative emotions, conceals her distress. Edward's engagement, which had been kept secret because of his financial dependence on his mother, now becomes known to her. In her fury at Edward's refusal to break his promise to Lucy, she dismisses him from her sight, and settles on his younger brother Robert the property that would otherwise have gone to Edward. At this juncture a small living is offered to Edward, and the way seems open for his marriage with Lucy. But Robert, a fashionable young fop, falls in love with Lucy, who, seeing her best interest in a marriage with the wealthier brother, throws over Edward and marries Robert. Edward, relieved to be released from an engagement he has long and painfully regretted, proposes to Elinor and is accepted. Marianne, eventually accepts the proposal of Colonel Brandon, an old family friend, whose considerable quiet attractions had been eclipsed by his brilliant rival.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Jane Austen (1775—1817) novelist

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